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Artist conjures beauty in ferocious beasts


Forgotten Glory II (acrylic and colour pencil on canvas, 2015).

Forgotten Glory II (acrylic and colour pencil on canvas, 2015).

Beauty in the Beast is Haris Rashid’s debut solo exhibition

With its cold, piercing eyes, the tiger looks at you. You cannot escape its deadly, steely gaze. Terror grips you. All that is now left is your imminent death.

Suddenly, you realise a machete around the beast’s neck, blood dripping mercilessly. In the distance, lurks a lone figure with a rifle, probably a hunter. The feline wasn’t preparing to kill you; it wanted you to save it. But what can one do in the face of such brutality?

Newcomer visual artist Haris Rashid is not one to remain silent. The 23-year-old knew he had to do something to bring to the fore the plight of such creatures.

What transpired was a stunning, evocative and almost spiritual series of paintings depicting the “icons of the forest”, as Haris calls them in their full glory.

1 Haris Rashid’s Sun Bear (acrylic and colour pencil on wood, 2015).2 Forgotten Glory II (acrylic and colour pencil on canvas, 2015). 3 Deer (ink and watercolor on board, 2014).4 Killing Beauty I (watercolour, ink and colour pencil on paper, 2013).5 Lone Wolf (mixed media on pressed paper, 2014).
Haris Rashid’s Sun Bear (acrylic and colour pencil on wood, 2015).

The aptly named Beauty In The Beast is the Kedah-born, Klang Valley-based artist’s debut solo exhibition, currently on at Artemis Art, Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

It strives to harness the beauty inherent in ferocious beasts.

Haris’ past group exhibitions (in Kuala Lumpur) include 2014’s Untamed Bloom at the New Straits Times lobby, Pesta Rabak at Publika’s White Box and Rantai Art Exhibition at KL’s Red Bungalow.

“I see them as majestic creatures. Some may see them as ferocious or deadly because people aren’t aware of their beauty,” says the self-professed environmentalist in a recent interview at the gallery.

Haris endeavours to make them look “godly and give them a different light so that others can look at them differently.”

Deer (2014) by Haris Rashid. Ink and watercolor on board. Photo: Artemis Art
Deer (ink and watercolor on board, 2014).

The One Academy diploma-graduate believes it is this failure to perceive the animals’ nobility and magnificence that drives ruthless human beings to kill them. Extinction is the unfortunate eventuality.

In the work called Killing Beauty I, Haris wants viewers to realise that as mighty and beautiful as tigers are, these creatures are not actually safe, especially against the perils of human evolution.

Haris accomplishes this by craftily disguising the machete as part of the tiger’s body. He uses similar monochromatic colours and orange shades for the beast and the weapon. You may not even notice the presence of a machete if it wasn’t for the blood.

Then, it dawns on you. Just as how you may have missed the machete around the tiger’s neck, you could easily overlook the dire state of not only tigers, but also the other majestic animals inhabiting our forests.

Interestingly, it was this particular artwork that spurred the fledgling artist to begin on this series.

Lone Wolf (2014) by Haris Rashid. Mixed media on pressed paper. Photo: Artemis Art
Lone Wolf (mixed media on pressed paper, 2014). 

Haris, who considers big cats his spirit animal, started work on Beauty In The Beast in 2013 and has produced 20 pieces using mixed media, namely acrylic, colour pencil, watercolour and pigments. The artworks are priced between RM480 and RM6,880.

For this writer, the most stunning piece is Sun Bear. A mirror of classic European paintings of religious figures, the majestic bear is seen standing on its hind legs. With a parochial augustness, the bear stares at you.

Instead of the iconic crescent patch on its breast, there is now an ochre-coloured butterfly-shaped marking. This butterfly motif repeats itself in almost all of Haris’ illustrations.

The bear’s gaze is not cold neither is it congenial. It is the opaque glare you receive from those in power. A sun-like halo frames the bear’s head, elevating the animal to a saint-like status. Its gigantic paws relaxed, the bear holds a bouquet of roses, like a peace offering.

Haris reasons that he likes to “mix something unsettling with something very peaceful.”

However, it is not the animals themselves that lend greatness to his artwork. Haris marks each of the animals, ranging from panthers and tigers to elephants, stags and even a parrot, with tribal and ancient cultural motifs.

Killing Beauty I (2013) by Haris Rashid. Watercolor, ink and colour pencil on paper. Photo: Artemis Art
4 Killing Beauty I (watercolour, ink and colour pencil on paper, 2013).

It is these symbols and intricate markings which evoke a kind of spirituality in the pieces. There is something ethereal about the artist’s detailed treatment, a kind of romanticism of the natural world which transports us to a time when animals were revered as deities.

Actually, the paintings and illustrations are a reflection of works by Taiwanese American visual artist James Jean and Los Angeles-based Japanese painter Audrey Kawasaki. The dreamy approach, with ethnic motifs and large flowers and leaves, is undoubtedly an inspiration Haris drew from these artists, all of whom have inspired him. This distinctive execution is perhaps why the gallery decided to take him on.

Gallery owner S. Jamal Al-Idrus says it was the young artist’s “level of skill, evident in the ornate detailing that he applies to his works”, that drew him to Haris’ works.

“His works display a certain level of maturity, with an important message to convey, that is, the urgency for society to put more emphasis on the preservation of wildlife,” says Jamal.

Beauty In The Beast is on daily till April 12 at Artemis Art (Lot 21 & 22, Level G4, Block C5, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur). Admission is free. For more information, call 03-6211 1891 or visit artemisart gallery.com.

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